French may still be using sludge
By Philip Clarke
FRENCH farmers may still be feeding animal feed containing sewage sludge to their livestock despite the furore over the practice, it has emerged.
Months after a visit by European Commission inspectors, there are no guarantees that French renderers have stopped incorporating sludge into feed.
Two rendering sites inspected in August appeared to have abandoned incorporating sludge of any form earlier in the year. But the practice may be continuing elsewhere in France – or indeed in other European countries, indicated a commission spokesman.
"The possibility exists," he confirmed.
The inspectors report concluded: "Certain plants in the French rendering industry have, for years, used prohibited substances, such as sludge from the biological treatment of waste water, or from septic tanks."
Much of this would be from floor washings, including animal parts and bowel contents. There is also evidence that human excrement may have been included, where on-site toilets fed into the same water disposal system.
The 15-page document explains how sludge is collected from dirty water by filtration, chemical treatment and biological treatment.
Although doubts remain over the extent to which it still continues, incorporating sludge into feed remains technically legal under French law.
But under EU legislation, faeces, urine and separated digestive content are prohibited from animal feed ingredients "irrespective of any form of treatment". So is sludge from plants treating waste water.
But the French authorities interpret sludge as the sediments of biological treatment. They claim solids collected from filters or from chemical treatment can still be used in feed. And they say that rendering plants have never taken material from municipal sewage works. All sludge is heat-treated, removing any micro-biological risk.
The practice could be even more widespread. Germany, Holland and Belgium are also under suspicion of using sludge in feed. They have been given until the end of the month to respond to an EU-wide survey to establish if it is happening elsewhere.
Legal action against the French is still an option. But the commission is waiting to see whether the problem of interpretation is more widespread. The NFU, however, believes there is already a case to answer. "We would hope that action will be taken for what has gone on in the past," said a spokeswoman from the unions Brussels office.
Terry Lee, export manager for the Meat and Livestock Commission, said the sludge scandal called into question the integrity of the French food standards agency, which has condemned the safety of British beef.
"If they are so concerned about consumer safety, where is their opinion on this one?"
Commission officials have given France 15 days to come up with an action plan to tighten its controls, and ensure that prohibited substances are no longer used in feed.